The bus stopped in front of a large gate on a dusty road. ‘We’re here.’ The driver simply said and inclined his head towards the gate. His hands firmly on the steering, he was looking ahead as if expecting something to go wrong.
Deji stretched, yawned and groped for the door knob. He opened the bus, got out with his luggage, stood and watched the big gate before him for a full minute.
The bus sped away, the driver driving like a man possessed; still Deji’s full attention did not waver from the gate. He was surrounded by a sea of sand, he wondered just where the military had shipped him to.
He remembered his near death experience in the free fall vacuum some weeks back. How he had started training like a maniac afterwards. He remembered his father’s proud look when he was about to leave the house. His brothers assuring looks, he was grateful his sister was still in England. He wasn’t sure he could have withstood her tears coupled with their mother’s.
He gripped the traveling bag tighter working his wrist muscles. A keen sense of responsibility descended on him. He had stopped asking why, had focused on training and getting into shape for the three-month training programme. Now, he had doubts, but had realized as the bus drove away that he couldn’t escape this. He sighed heavily, gripped his bag tightly and moved.
They gathered on the parade ground in the evening. All morning, Deji had watched as prospects arrived after him. The Army boys called them all prospects and Deji found that the word stuck. They had loads of papers to sign, were given bunks and a tour of the only building that was visible for miles. The parade ground was really big and he heard they would be taking shooting lessons out in the woods. The military sure knew how to plan a site, he was somewhat excited.
After filing out on the parade ground, the soldiers got them at attention and turned them over to the Commandant of the camp. The man was no taller than five feet seven inches, thickset with a bulging stomach. Knowing that the man was a sergeant-major, Deji was suddenly nauseated. He held himself and stood straight.
‘Gentlemen,’ he began as though he was partially blind and couldn’t see the ladies. ‘Welcome to hell.’ He flashed tobacco stained teeth at them. ‘You are the elite few that were selected amongst the thousands that applied for this job and training.
‘You were assessed on three levels,’ he was pacing moving from one end to the other, his hands interlocked at the small of his back. ‘IQ, Psyche and Health conditions. You were the abnormal ones with off the chart scores.
‘My job, is to prune your large number down as much as possible. It would be my pleasure if not one of you makes it through this exercise successfully.’ An evil grin appeared on his face.
Deji spied the privates behind and beside the parade murmuring. He got a dark sense of foreboding immediately. Maybe he should have said no to agent Tunde, he thought. The man’s speech had continued.
‘It will cost nothing for me to dismiss or disqualify you.’ He looked the lady directly in front of Deji dead in the eye. ‘The first and last words of your mouth when addressing me is sir!’ He smoothed his uniform, ‘I am sergeant-major Bala Audu by name.I am your commandant and god for the next few months.
‘Earlier, you heard me address you all as men, that is because, this army is gender blind. You will be doing everything together including bathing, washing, camping…’
The parade ground was abuzz with murmuring. Sergeant Bala looked amused for all of two seconds as he resumed pacing. ‘Just like men who share a bathroom are not attracted to themselves, you will live like that. Consider it your lust training. If I get the report of any of you going a step further be it male or female, you will hear from me…
One of the recruits laughed, he wondered the how that was possible for males and females to bathe together and have nothing happen. It was an emotional mistake.
Sergeant Bala located him and stood directly in front of him. The recruit was well built and stood above six feet. Sergeant Bala was short in contrast. Still, he looked the more imposing of the two.
‘Something I said funny son?’ He had a dark scowl on his face.
Petrified, the recruit started mumbling but couldn’t get out words. Sergeant Bala observed him for a while then barked ‘two hundred push ups now!’
Deji felt the hair at the back of his neck rise. He would do well to avoid this commanding officer. Damn, dude just barked like the devil. He came out of his reverie to see that sergeant Bala had gone back to his position in front of the parade.
Two of the privates were drilling the recruit who was having a hard time churning the numbers. The parade ground was silent a while as the soldiers counted, ‘forty, forty-one, forty-two…’
Deji could see that the guy couldn’t make a hundred push ups let alone two. He was breathing heavily and one of the privates had his boot firmly on the guy’s back to help him push down whilst the other wielded a cane he used to beat the guy’s fore-arm if he delayed pushing up. Together, the privates worked the hapless recruit.
‘They’ll kill this dude if he doesn’t make two hundred o,’ Deji thought and raised his hand. ‘Sir! Permission to help him complete his push ups. Sir!’
Sergeant Bala walked slowly from the front of the parade to where Deji stood, giving him ample time to regret and rescind his decision. ‘What did you say son?’ He dared Deji to respond when he got to him.
‘Sir! Permission to help him complete his push ups. Sir!’ Deji responded looking straight ahead.
Sergeant Bala smiled. ‘This one has balls’ he thought and granted the request.
Deji hit the floor and did a hundred push ups in less than two minutes.
As he arose, sergeant Bala said, ‘ now you’ll do three hundred push ups for even daring to help.’ He had a wicked smile on his face.
Deji had realised that he would be punished for speaking out of turn. Three hundred! He sighed, hit the floor again and did the required number. He rose, his forehead glistening, his eyes dangerous. It was as though he was daring sergeant Bala to punish him further.
The man went back to his position and continued speaking. ‘There will be no camaraderie here, no show offs and definitely no sexual assaults or copulation. What I say is final. You cannot contest it, thus that recruit is forthwith expelled.’ He pointed at the recruit Deji had helped. ‘He will not be continuing with us.
‘Pack your things and get ready, you’ll ship out at 22:00hrs.’ The scowl had returned as he regarded the lot with disdain. ‘Learn from today’s event. This here…’ he made a circle around himself, ‘…is a boot camp. It is NOT an hotel. Prepare to be grilled endlessly. Dismissed.’ He turned and left the new recruits on the parade ground utterly confused.